A Travellerspoint blog

Day 10: Morgantown, WV to Hellertown, PA

Yes its time: Take Me Home Country Road

sunny 84 °F

Having left before 6 AM, we encountered no issues with traffic or backups as we headed home. It was all interstate as well and still took us about 5 hours to arrive.

After a fury of unpacking and dusting away the cobwebs from the house, we left and went to retrieve Boo from our local dog keeper. As with many of our trips we try to start and leave with a picture of Boo to bookend our journey. It gives us a sense of home.


Our journey to explore West Virginia took us over 1100 miles in 10 ten days. With the exception of the last night, we stayed at least 2 nights at each location. The front end of the trip was mainly rural, passing through national and state parks and rivers with mountain drives, scenery and hikes that were spectacular. The middle of the trip took us along the coal heritage trail where we learned about the challenging and difficult lives that the miners and their families had to endure and the benefits that their hard work gave to the progress of America. The back end of the trip was on the western side of the state where we saw more of the government, history and industrial power of the state. The people of West Virginia were engaging and helpful along the way and extremely proud of their heritage. As we drove on home with a sense of wondering and sadness, the words of John Denver rang true - "Take me home country roads".

Posted by Argenti Travel 17:29 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Day 9: Charleston, WV to Morgantown, WV

Doing Time in the Clinker

sunny 82 °F

As we had to drive 150 or so miles today for an 11:00 AM reservation, we hit the road slightly before 8 AM. Our destination was a visit to the West Virginia State Penitentiary, a prison built in 1866 and decommissioned in 1995 as it represented cruel and unusual punishment at the time of its demise. The drive up was a mixture of interstates and roads that transverse the Ohio River between Ohio and West Virginia. The feel up in the northwestern state was distinctly industrial with many oil and gas refineries, old machinery shops, and a nuclear power plant thrown in for good measure.

We arrived in Moundsville and were greeted with the old Grave Creek Mound across the street from the prison. It stands 62 feet high and was built by the Adena culture between 250-150 BC (yes that old!). We did not take the time to visit the visitors center but instead checked into the reception area of the penitentiary.


We milled around the library until the tour started and came to face with Sparky, built by an inmate, for the benefit of the inmates.


The tour lasted 90 minutes and covered a good portion of the North and South wings and the recreation areas. The North wing is where they kept hardened criminals (22.5 hours per day of lockdown). Ultimately keeping 3 criminals in one of these cells caused the Supreme Court to rule in favor of closing the facility. It did not have heat nor air conditioners and the plumbing was rat infested.


The outside recreation area once housed the death house (executions) until it was torn down in the 60s when the death penalty was abolished in West Virginia.


The South wing was where the less hardened criminals were kept and they had free range of the outside recreation area at will. Still not the best of accommodations.


Overall the tour was great and the guide excellent at telling inside antidotes. Still, we left the prison a bit disquieted and uneasy.

We traveled on to Morgantown also via country roads since accidents and construction were causing delays on the most direct route. We checked into our hotel by the river walk and set out to explore some of the area around the river.


As we were hungry we stopped at Mountain State Brewery along the river for a late lunch (or early dinner). The food and drink were great and we sort of languished a bit being road weary. We walked on for an overall trip up and back of about 3 miles and then called it a day.

Posted by Argenti Travel 17:28 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Day 8: Charleston, WV

A Day in the Capital

sunny 75 °F

We woke up to a bright sunny day with little to no humidity. After breakfast, we headed out on the Kanawha River Trail that boarders the river and runs for about 9 miles up and back in Charleston. The trail itself is not well maintained and has an overgrowth of weeds and tall grass. Our goal from the trail was the State Capital Plaza. We walked about a mile and a half on the trail and then decided to go up to street level for the rest of the walk (its about 2.3 miles from the hotel). Nevertheless, the views along the river are very nice.


We arrived at the capital complex which is impressive and well maintained. The Governor's Mansion sits next to the capitol building (short walk for the gov!).


The grounds around the capital building contain various monuments and dedications to the men and women of West Virginia including the iconic coal miner.


As we wrapped around the front of the plaza we came to the entrance of the capital building for some picture perfect photos.


Having spent some time viewing the grounds, we headed over to the West Virginia State Museum. Over the years we have seen quite a few museums but this one stands out as one of the better ones. The museum is laid out nicely in a timeline fashion highlighting the culture, history and progress of the state. As you travel along in time, each section details the key events that took place to shape its history. From early settlements, through the civil war, statehood, and coal mining, the museum uses various media to bring forth the impact of its people and events. We never lost interest along the journey which for many museums is a given. Some highlights are presented in the pictures below.


We spent the better part of the morning exploring the museum before heading out and walking back into town. We primarily took Virginia St. which passed by small homes and apartments eventually taking a detour up Quarrier St. until we reached Capital St. We noticed that the city itself is very quiet with not too many people around as would be expected for a city such as this. We figured that many people are still working remotely and this would contribute to the decreased activity. We stopped for lunch at Adelphia Sports Bar and then headed back to the hotel at around 3 pm.

After a brief rest and a swim in the pool we headed out to the river once again to walk the Kanawha River Trail but this time in the other direction. The trail heading away from downtown was in better shape since it was adjacent to more of a community setting.


After about 1/2 hour we headed back into town where we went to the mall for a piece of pizza and a soda and then called it a day. All told we walked about 9 miles today.

Next Up: Morgantown

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Day 7: Beckley, WV to Charleston, WV via Coalwood

The Rocket Boys Live On via the Coal Heritage Trail

sunny 74 °F

We both woke up downing acetaminophen as we were still stiff and hurting from rafting. Patti told me that she was now ready to do some more Class 5 rafting but I felt she was a bit too over confident as we were just lucky yesterday. Taking a spill in the drink would cure that I'm sure. Todays journey would take us to the Sandstone Falls in the New River Gorge National Park onto Coalwood (explain later) and begin our journey homeward via Charleston, WV.

After an hour or so drive via many back roads and mountain passes we arrived at the trailhead of the Sandstone Falls. This hike was very short and flat and along a board walk out to an expansive view of the falls. The falls are 1500 feet across the New River and separated by small islands. Along the boardwalk there were several photo stops to view that section of the river.


After 30 minutes or so at the falls, we headed south along the Coal Heritage Trail for about 2 hours until we reached the town of Welsh. The Coal Heritage Trail passes through many long forgotten coal-based communities and pays tribute to the hardworking people that forged America from this part of the country. We landed in the community of Welsh, which is still a vibrant town, and then headed into the final drive to Coalwood. We always thought of visiting this small mining town because our family was big fans of the movie October Sky. The movie depicts a young student named Homer Hickman who, with a couple of other students, formed a group called the Rocket Boys in the backdrop of a coal mining town. Homer and his friends are inspired by rocketry in the days of Sputnik and go on to obtain higher educations in the face of the lure of the coal mine. The movie put Coalwood "on the map" and we were excited to get to see it.

We headed down the mountain from Welsh and into town with a line of small homes lining the street on the right. At the bottom of the hill sat a sign welcoming us to Coalwood with Homer's former home across the street.


We turned right at Homer's homestead and traveled a mile or so into what was once the core of the coal mining plant. Across the street was a set of placards explaining mining, the town's history and a piece on the Rocket Boys. The former machine shop, housing for the workers, and a church were also at this location. There was little to no traffic at all in this part of town, a bit eerie.


There was also bit of sadness to all of this as the Olga mine closed in 1986 and just left a series of vestiges and shadows of what once was. We headed out of town and back into Welch and grabbed a bite to eat before beginning our final journey to Charleston. The ride along the interstate was breathtaking as we passed through beautiful scenery and mountain passes arriving at our hotel around 3 pm.

After checking in, we did a quick circle through town capturing some images along the way (especially on Capital St.).


We got some dinner at the Tidewater Grill and headed back to the hotel and called it a night.

Next Up: Charleston by Day

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Day 6: Rafting the Gorge

A River Runs Through It and a Step Back In Time

sunny 84 °F

The meeting time for our raft trip was scheduled for 8:05 AM. So we headed out the door around 7:00 AM for the 1/2 hour trip to Adventures on the Gorge. We had some tough storms roll through the area last night and unbeknownst to us, it knocked out power to the Adventures Lodge and downed a lot of trees. So after arriving and checking in, we were delayed a bit while the raft company sorted thru the options. The road to the raft loading area was covered with debris from the storm and was rendered impassable. Parts of the Gauley River were also filled with remnants of the storm so the only option that seemed the best was to put in at a different location than planned. Now the rapids were classified as "3 to 5" versus the "2 to 4" which we signed up for! It was to be a 16 mile journey with roughly 40 rapids.

We drove for about an hour and when we arrived, we were divided among teams. We were fortunate since we were assigned the raft with the main leader who was very experienced (lucky for us!) and personable (lots of jokes!). After a few minutes learning how to work and paddle as a team we headed down stream. We encountered a few small rapids then headed into the Class 3, 4 and one 5 before docking for lunch. We were about 30% into the ride by now. After lunch we went through a string of pretty tough rapids nearly tossing everyone inside the boat and almost all out into the water. Several boats lost people into the water in a couple of the more tougher rapids. After several hours we cleared the rough water and beached the boats at around 2 pm. We were back at the Adventures lodge by 3 pm and dressed and headed out. This was a great day to spend on the water meeting new folks, getting exercise, excitement and sun.

Since it was still early afternoon we decided to take a trip down memory lane and visit the town of Thurmond, a former boomtown from the early 1900s. It is a part of the National Park in New River Gorge. Getting there by car is an excitement in itself going down very narrow, and oftentimes, one way roads. The final part of the drive is to cross a one lane bridge that parallels a train track (it so happened that a coal train was running in parallel to us). The remnants of the town is a single street that butts up against the train tracks, a post office and the former train depot, now a Visitor's Center.


After spending a few minutes walking down the street, we paid a visit to the Visitor's Center and purchased a few trinkets and headed back to the hotel. Dinner was Italian (Pasquales) and we called it a night.

Next Up: Homer Hickam

Posted by Argenti Travel 00:36 Archived in USA Comments (0)

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